McLouth Steel community group launches to follow cleanup

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A community advisory group formed to share information about the McLouth Steel Superfund site in Trenton started meeting Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced.

The group, which includes more than a dozen community stakeholders and residents, aims to share concerns and input about the site with the EPA and EGLE. It is not a decision-making or regulatory body and does not set policy or make decisions regarding project design and implementation, representatives said. 

"You are representing the community," said Stacie Smith, managing director and senior mediator with the Consensus Building Institute, to the more than 30 participants Thursday.

The group had been slated to gather at the Downriver city's Westfield Activities Center for its first official meeting, but due to the coronavirus outbreak reaching Michigan, the members moved their discussion online.

Last year, the EPA announced the McLouth Steel site was among others nationwide added to its Superfund National Priorities List targeting cleanup for some of the nation's most contaminated land, making remediation within a nearly 20-acre section of the property eligible for federal cleanup dollars.

Located at 1491 West Jefferson Ave., the site has been split into two sections: north and south. The southern portion of the site was contaminated by the former facility’s steel-making processes and is being cleaned up by EPA’s Superfund program. The cleanup of the north side of the site is managed by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy corrective action program.

The facility closed in 1995 after the company filed for bankruptcy.

Manuel "Matty" Moroun's Crown Enterprises bought the site for $4 million from the Wayne County Land Bank. The Wayne County Commission approved a plan that called for Crown to raze 45 buildings on the site within two years and invest $20 million in six years.

Aerial view of the McClouth Steel site in Trenton on Wednesday.

The EPA, state environmental officials and U.S. Department of Justice in 2018 also approved a legal agreement involving the purchase, assessment and cleanup of the site.

Some of the site was suspected to contain PCBs and potentially hazardous materials that could become airborne during the cleanup process. "Black lagoons" from runoff and sludge remain as a result of the mill activity, the EPA has said.

Work at McLouth began in November 2018 after the property deed was transferred to Crown.

By January 2019, state environmental officials flagged multiple asbestos-related violations at the plant amid demolition. Crown officials said that any violations from project contractors or vendors would get "resolved quickly" and the company had "multiple layers to see that work is done correctly at the site."

Diane Russell, a community involvement coordinator with the EPA, said Thursday that the agency was amid short-term work expected through summer, and remedial efforts could begin in 2021. More efforts were slated to continue past 2025, she said.

"Those first set of years ... is a lot of investigation and information collection to understand what work we need to do," she said.

The community advisory group has gathered members from area residents affiliated with organizations such as the Grosse Ile Nature and Land Conservancy.

During the online meeting Thursday, Emily Hornbeck, a Trenton resident who has applied to join, said she was motivated by the importance of the McLouth site.

"I'm interested in seeing how it’s going to transform or not," she told the participants.